The Revd Edward Wilson
Curate 1806-1854

The Revd Edward Wilson was Curate of St John’s for 48 years. He was appointed in 1806 at the age of 24, having been born in 1782. There is a gap in the parish registers which lasts until 1813, and we do not find any entries with his signature until then. This may be because, in common with many other clergy of the day, if they had the means, they frequently employed less well-off curates to officiate for them. This was evident throughout Edward Wilson’s cure, for there are plenty of examples of other men taking the services at the chapel, but it may also have been the case that he suffered from periodic bouts of ill health or depression, as we shall see.
Edward Wilson was the son of another Edward Wilson, who was also a clergyman and who served as Incumbent of Chapel Allerton, near Leeds in the County of York for 35 years. He was born in Kescadale, Newlands, near Keswick on May 6th, 1761, and died at Keswick on July 2nd, 1835 

Ruins of Snipes HowHis son, Edward Wilson was a family man. His wife was Anne Wilson, and during his time as curate, they had no less than seven children born and baptised at the chapel. There was at this time no parsonage in the parish, so the family lived at a variety of addresses. Their first child, Joseph, was baptised on November 19th, 1817 by Edward himself. Interestingly, the immediately previous entry (6th Oct 1817) is for the baptism of John Richardson, son of Daniel and Mary Richardson of Stone. John Richardson became a noted writer of dialect poetry and prose and wrote later of ‘Priest Wilson’.

The Wilson’s address is given as Yew Tree, though, whether this was  the farm or the cottages is not apparent, and before they moved house, Anne had given birth to two more sons, Alfred, who was baptised on September 2nd 1819, and Edward, baptised on August  4th, 1821.

During the next few years, Edward Wilson baptised and buried regularly those parishioners who needed his ministrations, but in December 1824, other clergy sign the register for a year or two, with only the occasional signature of Edward Wilson. Perhaps he suffered  a period of illness. Even when his fourth child, a daughter this time named Mary Anne, was baptised in 1825, someone else took the service. By this time the family had moved from Yew Tree to Piet Nest (Low Nest today). Again, in 1827 when Daniel, his fourth son was born, he did not baptise the child himself. Parson and White’s Directory of 1829 records that The Rev. Edward Wilson, Perpetual  Curate of St John’s was resident at Piet Nest.

Apart from the occasional signature, it was not until May 1829 that he started to take services regularly again. In 1831 he baptised his sixth child Thomas, but the following year sorrow came to the family with the death of Edward, his third son, at the age of ten. The curate  took his son’s funeral himself. At some point during the next two years the family moved back to the other side of High Rigg, leaving Piet Nest for Bridge House, and here, in May 1834, to their joy (one imagines) a second daughter was born and baptised. This was the last  child Edward and Anne were to have.

Edward Wilson continued to serve the parish for another 19 years.During this time, the ‘parsonage house’ (presumably Bridge House) became unfit for residence, for we have among the parish papers a licence from the Bishop of Carlisle permitting the curate to be absent from the benefice from January 1842 until December 31st, 1843, ‘due  to the dilapidated condition of the house’.

This was not the only dilapidated building either, for in 1845-6, the church itself was rebuilt, because it too needed repair.Whether Edward Wilson ever moved back to Bridge House is not  clear. Certainly, towards the end of his life he lived in Keswick,  where he died.

He was greatly respected by his parishioners as this little token illustrates:

On Tuesday, November 10th 1846, a Yew Tree presented by Sarah  Stanley of Row End was transplanted in the churchyard ‘as an ornament to the Chapelyard as a token of veneration and esteem for her beloved pastor, the Reverend Edward Wilson, Keswick.’ The tree was planted by the Schoolmaster, John William Crowe and ten of his pupils, John Edmondson, John and Robert Cartmell aged 13 and 14 of Piet Nest (Low Nest), William Cartmell (13) of Smaithwaite, Joseph Allison (11) of Goosewell, William Edmondson (9), John Williamson (9) of Lowthwaite and Christopher his brother (11), Thomas Allison (9) of Goosewell and John Cartmell (9) of Bridge End.

Perhaps this is the Yew tree now in the corner of the churchyard near the Diocesan Youth Centre, or possibly, the Irish Yew near to the  church?

In 1852, Sarah Margaret died in Keswick and was brought to be buried at the chapel by her now aged father. She was 18 years old. Edward Wilson was to follow her only two years later, when he was buried in St John’s-in-the-Vale churchyard at the age of 72. His grave can easily be found near the West end of the church under the rhododendrons. The stone commemorates his father as well. Anne Wilson joined her husband eleven years later when she died, also at  the age of 78.

We come now to the sad and tragic death of Edward. This report appeared in the Kendal Mercury on Saturday 15th July 1854 and  speaks for itself.

'On the morning of Saturday last, the town of Keswick was thrown into a state of excitement, by the painful report that the Rev. Edward Wilson, Incumbent of St John’s-in-the-Vale, had committed suicide in  an outhouse adjoining his dwelling, by cutting his throat with a razor, about six o’clock that morning. The deceased had been incumbent of St John’s–in-the-Vale for a long period of 48 years; and was held in great esteem and respect. The inquest on view of the body was held on Monday last, before W. Lumb, Esq., coroner for the Western Division of the County of Cumberland, and a respectable jury, at the Royal Oak Hotel, Keswick.

Thomas Wilson, who was extremely affected, on being sworn, said,
" I am a son of the deceased, who would be 73 years of age next Christmas. I last saw him alive on Friday night about eleven o’clock.On Saturday morning about six o’clock, my mother came into my room and said she had lost my father. I got up and went into two or three rooms, and then went into the garden to see if the door was bolted; it was fast, and I then knew he must be on the premises. It was  quite an unusual thing for him to go out in the morning. I then went  accompanied by the servant, into a place – a barn formerly – at present used for lumber. I had to go through the yard to get to it. I could not see him. I told the girl to open broad the doors to throw in more light. I then saw him lying on his left side dead, from a wound on  his throat. His body was quite warm. I had no suspicion that any one else had done it; there is no doubt that he had done it himself. When I returned from College about ten days ago, I found a marked difference with him; before that he had not been at all well; he had suffered from influenza; complained of intense pain in the head, and his feet were quite cold. He had been in a low desponding state, and took no interest in anything since my brother’s death about two months ago; he was of a very nervous temperament; he had done no regular duty for 30 years. I made no remark to the family about the marked  difference in him that I noticed".
The Rev. R Mulcaster, on being sworn, stated that he was curate of St John’s in the Vale, and had known Mr Wilson’s family for about three years. He had been about 18 weeks in his curacy, and lived in Keswick. He had observed great alteration in the deceased since his son’s death, and recommended Mrs Wilson to go with him to the sea side. He never observed any derangement; he  was not cross; he desired to be alone; never gloomy and sad; lived quietly, and was very abstemious. I saw him on Monday last; he would not join in conversation; he was quite capable of transacting parochial business; he kept pressing his head with his hands; he said” what nice cold hands you have got; my head is very hot”.
The jury returned a verdict “that the deceased destroyed himself  during temporary derangement.”’

This report reveals much more about Edward Wilson. It may be that he did in fact suffer from periods of depression, and his regular use of curates to look after parish affairs, while common among clergy of the time, may also have been due to his poor health. Clearly the death of his son only two months earlier, and of his daughter two years earlier, had affected him deeply. This was the third of his children to predecease him. He is said to be nervous, desiring a quiet life, and very abstemious. Nevertheless, the mention that he was held in great esteem and respect is supported by the planting of the tree in the  churchyard already referred to.

The family must have been reasonably well off. As an incumbent of  St John’s, his stipend at the time he took up his incumbency was provided from an ancient endowment. On 15th June, 1719, ‘certain of the inhabitants (of the parish) had contributed to the procuring of Queen Anne’s Bounty for the augmentation of the curacy’ and a declaration of the “intention” of such of the inhabitants as had so contributed’ had been made. (Report of The Charity Commissioners dated during Edward Wilson’s incumbency). This stated among other things that the curate should teach the children of the Chapelry, and that ‘as the inhabitants of the chapelry had contributed to the obtaining of the royal bounty, and beside that, paid the ancient yearly allowance and stipend, the school should be free for the benefit of the whole chapelry; and if the “curate should refuse or be disabled as to teaching school himself, he should allow another fit person £5 per annum for that end and purpose” This was signed by 37 inhabitants, by two curates previous to 1773, and by John Wilson in 1773 (also a curate), stating that he promised to perform all the particulars required except the clause in which the school is mentioned as being free, but he agreed to teach the same during his pleasure at a reasonable quarter  pence, or to allow £5 per annum. It was signed by another curate in 1786.

This ancient stipend was £3-7s-11d, being a fixed rate collected from every householder and paid to the curate. The statement then goes on to say that ‘the Rev. Edward Wilson teaches school, receiving quarter pence from the children according to what they learn ---- and that Mr  Wilson has no intention to discontinue teaching school, and if he should, he has no objection to pay £5 to another schoolmaster.’

In addition, Mr Wilson also receives ‘27s being the interest of a turnpike ticket for £30 purchased with £27 of ancient chapel stock  but it is not known how this fund arose.’

A Terrier of 1777 lists the various properties purchased with the sum  of £200 given by the late John Gaskarth, the £200 from Queen Anne’s Bounty, and £100 contributed by the inhabitants of the chapelry. These lands (Sykes, Birkhow Sykes and Dale-Bottom) were said to be worth about £30-10s yearly. There were also funeral,  baptism, and churching fees. Altogether this seems to add up to about £35 per annum.

Whether this would have been sufficient income to support a curate we cannot say, but it seems doubtful that the curate could have  afforded to pay other clergy and a schoolmaster too without private  means. In the case of Edward Wilson, we know perfectly well that he did for long periods employ others, including, presumably, the schoolmaster Mr Crowe mentioned before.

An interesting letter exists among the church papers. It is from  Edward Wilson to John Faulder, his tenant at Sykes, and reads:

Letter from Edward Wilson to John Folder  “Take notice that you are to quit and deliver up to me on the twenty-fifth day of March next the quiet and peaceable possession of all those  farms called Birkhowe Sykes, Birkhowe and Dalebottom and the premises with the appurtenances which you farm of me situate in the  Parish of Crosthwaite or elsewhere in the County of Cumberland. Dated the twentieth Day of September 1852.”

Among those who were taught by Edward Wilson was John Richardson, the local dialect poet, builder of the church, the school and the vicarage, and eventual schoolmaster.

Of priest Wilson he says in his humorous tale in dialect, “T’ Barrin’ Oot”,
  “I went to St Jwohn’s Scheull, when Preest Wilson was t’maister. He
was rackon’t a varra good maister. Sartenly, he was parlish sharp on
us at times; an’ some o’t’ laal uns war nar aboot freetent to deith on’im.”

Among the subjects that Priest Wilson would have taught John  Richardson were Latin and Greek, and reading, writing, and arithmetic, as required by the declaration of 1719 already referred to.

It appears that Edward Wilson did fulfil his obligation to teach in the  school himself for some years at least.

The wording on the gravestone tells us little more, merely saying that he was ‘Laid to rest, July 11th 1854, aged 72 Years, Incumbent of this parish for 48 Years’